"Insomnia affects both mental and physical well-being," says psychologist Dr. Larisa Wainer of Morris Psychological Group. "Sleep is as important to our health as good nutrition and regular exercise. Not getting enough sleep is detrimental to daytime functioning - to our mood, energy, concentration and reaction time."
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. It is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking and difficulty getting back to sleep, waking too early, or not feeling rested on waking. Insomnia may be short-term (acute) - lasting from one night to several weeks - or it may be long-term (chronic). It is generally considered chronic if symptoms occur for three nights a week for a period of three months or longer. Insomnia is more common in women, possibly because of hormonal fluctuations, and in people over sixty, when changes in health, medications and activity levels play a role.
Insomnia may be associated with a wide range of underlying medical and psychological conditions, including anxiety and depression. Anxiety about being unable to fall sleep often makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Some medications also interfere with sleep, including antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications and over-the-counter medications that contain stimulants.
"When insomnia isn't caused by medication or an underlying health condition, we encourage people to seek help for a chronic problem before it takes a serious toll on their health and daily functioning," says Dr. Wainer. "Prescription sleeping pills can be helpful for a short period but generally aren't advisable for the long term. A better approach is treatment that provides a long-term solution by changing the behaviors that make insomnia worse and instilling new behaviors that enable restful sleep."
Do's and don'ts of healthy sleep habits: Lifestyle changes and adjustments to bedtime routines can make a big difference for insomnia sufferers.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven effective in reducing insomnia. It is a short-term therapeutic approach that focuses on changing the thoughts and beliefs that drive behavior. With cognitive behavioral therapy the therapist and patient work together to identify and then reduce or control the negative thoughts and anxieties that inhibit sleep.
Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation and guided imagery have a calming effect that is conducive to falling sleep. Progressive muscle relaxation, a technique of systematically tensing and releasing different muscles, is also an effective route to relaxation.
"It's normal to have occasional trouble sleeping," Dr. Wainer concludes. "But it isn't normal to regularly struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep. And it isn't normal to wake up feeling exhausted or for lack of sleep to affect daytime functioning. Fortunately, you don't have to live with insomnia. Addressing any underlying cause and improving sleep habits can restore a restful night's sleep for most people."
Larisa Wainer, PsyD., is a licensed psychologist providing psychotherapy to individuals, couples, and groups. She has specific training and experience in issues related to sleep disorders.
Morris Psychological Group, P.A. offers a wide range of therapy and evaluation services to adults, children andadolescents.www.morrispsych.
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